WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time Episode 2, "Shadow's Waiting."
In the world of The Wheel of Time, it's made plain from the beginning that there is nobody alive more powerful than the Aes Sedai, the title given to the One Power-wielding women of the White Tower. When the Aes Sedai Moiraine comes to the isolated village of the Two Rivers, she stuns everyone with her channeling, but it turns out that there's more to being an Aes Sedai than throwing fireballs and bringing injured people back from the brink of death.
At first, Moiraine's only weakness seems to be her inability to use her power to heal her own body, leaving her weak and vulnerable for a long stretch of the subsequent journey. However, in the second episode she reveals that she does have other limits, and the surprising part is that she imposed them on herself. When Moiraine takes Egwene aside to speak privately, she begins with an explanation of the Three Oaths that she and all Aes Sedai have taken: "One, to speak no word that is not true. Two, to make no weapon with which one person may kill another. Three, never to use the One Power as a weapon, except in the last extreme defense of her life, or the life of her Warder, or another Aes Sedai."
These aren't just vows, according to Moiraine -- she's physically incapable of breaking them, due to the way the One Power is used to seal the deal. Since we only have her testimony on this so far, some might wonder if she's making it up to justify her own actions, but it's the truth and will become a vital part of The Wheel of Time's mythology. The first oath comes into play most often; catching someone in a lie is one way to prove that she's not a true Aes Sedai.
The question is, why would the Aes Sedai deliberately place such crippling restrictions on themselves? Nobody can force the White Tower to do anything, and the oaths they've chosen aren't exactly tenets of morality; the allowance for using the Power as a weapon for self-protection doesn't even extend to innocents aside from other Aes Sedai and Warders.
Egwene's dialogue in her scene with Moiraine provides a clue: "[The Three Oaths] are the promises made by the Aes Sedai to end Artur Hawkwing's siege of the White Tower." This is a slight change from the history described in the books, probably meant as much to namedrop the legendary king Artur Hawkwing as to provide context for the Three Oaths. But the idea of the Aes Sedai ending a siege by removing their own access to weapons amounts to basically the same thing.
It also makes sense, not only in why the decision was originally made, but why they've held to it for so long: People fear their power and don't trust them to use it responsibly. Simple promises wouldn't alleviate those fears, but magically enforced rules might.
Of course, not everyone knows about the Three Oaths, and not everyone who does will believe they're real. This brings up the possibility that the custom targets a specific group: the Aes Sedai themselves. They always present a united front to outsiders, but for a society made up of so many magic-wielding individuals, there's no way that all of them can be sure that they can trust each other. The Oaths may be a way for the White Tower to control a sister, or at least keep an eye on her.
Aes Sedai are known for keeping secrets as much as they are for channeling. More may be revealed about them as The Wheel of Time continues, but as Moiraine herself admits, there's nobody better at twisting the truth.
To learn more about the Aes Sedai, swear an oath to never miss The Wheel of Time, now streaming on Prime Video with new episodes released on Fridays.
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